Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Father, The Hero

We are all familiar with the awkward cadence and tedious nature of reading a comic strip aloud to someone. They can't see the illustrations, or from whence the speech bubbles came, and thus, you are forced to not only read the text, but then supplement it with cumbersome commentary ("...and as LuAnn is saying this, she is cuddling their small dog, Puddles. And then she says...") It takes three times as long to read, and often, the punch line is so mired in detail by the time of delivery, you rarely get a chuckle from your audience.

I woke up to this horrendous performance-art this morning, as my father insists on doing this when he finds a comic funny. And now he actually has an excuse, as not one, nor two, but ALL THREE of my grandparents are staying with us for the week due to power outages at their homes. His mother, my grandmother, cannot see because of the progression of her Macular Degeneration, and likes to be read aloud to from generally all sources of material. My Papa gets impatient with her, and doesn't like to, so naturally, my father, The Good Son, will do it.

My dad is loving this weather. Portland has gotten an unheard-of amount of snow and ice, for a week-and-a-half now, which is longer than it ever sticks around. Not only does it remind him of his college days in New Hampshire, and when he worked on the ski patrol at Grand Targhee for a few winters, but increases the likelihood of opportunities to be a hero.

On Saturday, he looked at my mother as the snow began to fall heavily and said, "I need to get out to the property to get the chainsaw."
"What do you need a chainsaw for?" my mother wanted to know.
"In case people need rescuing!" Dad said jubilantly.
"Make sure you swing by the dry-cleaner on the way there to pick up your cape and tights," she said.

This is no new development: it is just the fall-out of a man having chosen the wrong career entirely. A few years ago, after he tried sky-diving for the first time, we were driving to a lunch spot to celebrate his successful jump. We were in two separate cars as Dad had gotten out to the jump site early that morning and we just wanted to see the action.
We were on the winding backroads of rural Oregon, and passed a crowd of people who had gotten out of their cars and were clustered around a man on the ground. We had to pull over while Dad got out of his car to see what was going on, and if he could offer his help.
Not more than five minutes later on the same road, we witnessed a car careen around a turn, and apparently, as Dad was behind us, he saw it flip off the road into someone's front yard. He was the first person at the scene and called the police and calmed the passengers and did his best to administer first-aid.
It was his ideal day, as once he finally got to lunch, he had a beer, too.

Last Christmas, we were visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Dallas, Texas. My uncle works for a government agency, which my dad thinks is "SO. COOL." and offered to take us to a shooting range to try our skills at shooting handguns.
I did okay.
My dad was awesome.

So being snowed-in in the suburbs is not exactly his ideal version of being a hero, but the patience with which he attends to his mother, pacifies Papa (Dad's gotten really good at making Old Fashioneds), and puts up with his mother-in-law is just as admirable as any act in the line of fire.

"How about this one, Mom. The little girl comes into her little brother's room and says.."

And me? I gotta get outta here.
All I want for Christmas is the snow to melt.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Newsflash: 2008 Wasn't So Bad

With the new year right around the bend, I have been really looking forward to making some resolutions. I really like the idea of starting fresh, of tackling more, and of leaving behind. Looking at time in a linear way really allows us to do this.

However, the more I think about it, it's just as important to do a "year in review" of sorts. Just as Rolling Stone releases their comprehensive "50 Best Albums of the Year" issue, and People magazine declares the best and worst dressed celebrities, I think it's good to reflect and do the same in my own life- to evaluate how I did on my resolutions to make sure they meant something.

And you know what? I did ok. As much as I wanted to make The Weepies' "This is Not Your Year" my 2008 anthem, I am proud to announce that I had a fairly kick ass year.

(I want to hear about yours, too, but, let me pat myself on the back for a second)

2008: A Year of Accomplishments, After All

1. I wrote a 58 page thesis on "The Role and Identity of Women in Violent Political Extremist Acts in the Middle East" and defended it in front of my committee. I passed with honors.

2. I went to Puerto Rico for Spring Break.

3. I graduated from an accredited public university with a double major and a minor.

4. I got a job immediately upon graduation.

5. I survived a breakup and came out the other side stronger and better for it.

6. I bought a car.

7. I moved out of my parents' house into an apartment.

8. I had the honor of being in one of my best friends' weddings.

9. I bought myself a handbag. A very lovely, expensive, silly thing that I wanted and could afford for the first time ever.

10. I saw the following bands' live shows for the first time (some of which were at The Gorge Amphitheater, which I had never been to and will now visit once a year): Minus the Bear, The Big Sleep, Todd Snider, REM, The Cure, The Mars Volta, Flight of the Conchords, The Flaming Lips, Roderigo y Gabriela, The Little Ones, Mates of State, Ratatat, Ghostland Observatory, DJ Tiesto, Fleet Foxes, Back Door Slam, The Blakes, Band of Horses, The Black Keys, !!!, Estelle, Ingrid Michaelson, and Portugal the Man

11. I remained a good and loyal friend to the people I respect, trust, and admire.

As much as I struggled through certain months, as much as I thought I knew what was best for me other months... I was convinved that 2008 was just not my year. And it may not have been, but I made it my bitch.

2008? You got owned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Drastically Different December

There is no "Winter Break" for me this year.

I am not living at home.

I am single.

I did not just finish finals and come home with a bunch of laundry.

Other than my decision every morning to put on one of my many pairs of Christmas socks I seem to have collected over the years, and the unmistakable red of Starbucks cups everywhere, it's not feeling so Decembery.

To combat this, I'm partying extra hard for Santa and Baby Jesus this year. Maybe not extra hard, just more often. The holiday season is just the best time of year to catch up with people you love, miss, and care about. What better way to do this than clad in crusty Christmas sweaters, Christmas cocktail attire, and looking forward to a New Year together?

It also keeps me occupied at work if I have a social function to plan, which is why I am so looking forward to the holiday dinner I'm hosting at The Paragon! (By hosting, I mainly mean that I will be inviting everyone, and paying for the difference in our bill and the restaurant minimum when we inevitably don't hit it). More details to come as this develops... key words include: classy, Nat King Cole, and steak.

This week alone, I've gotten to see a lot of old friends, some of whom I haven't caught up with in years. Literally, two years. That is a lot of time when you've only known somone for nine years and you're only twenty-two.

Since my friends are awesome, these little reunions have also created some New Things For My Days!

Monday: I finally went to dinner with an old friend I've known since leadership camp days, when I was 15. Over the years we've seen each other at plenty of social scenes, but have never made the effort to actually enjoy catching up over a meal until this week, and I am really glad we did. He chose the restaurant- Marrakech - which was great since I've been to the city, but never the restaurant. We talked business, and college, and trips, and future plans and family while we ate with our hands. I couldn't have been more pleased with the bastilla, or the Moroccan mint tea. Or the company. I had misjudged him, and am glad he had an opportunity to change my mind. I look forward to future dinners and a stronger friendship with him.

Tuesday: I did spin class at the gym with another friend. I am still sore.
I also met up with some wonderful friends at the Blue Moon brewery just down the street from my apartment to eat french friends and play Trivial Pursuit. (My team won).

Wednesday: I drove home just to watch a movie with my parents. In a now-traditional Holiday Season move, we watched Elf. I never EVER get tired of this movie.

Thursday: Other than the kids I grew up with in the neighborhood or elementary school or church, one of my oldest friends came and picked me up on our semi-annual-when-we're-both-single-"date". He chose Ten01, which I was thrilled about as Mom and I have been wanting to try it for a while after reading rave reviews in recent dining guides about Portland.

I had the Roasted Duck with pureed parsnip, steamed brussel sprouts, and chantarelles with a fantastic glass of Sauvignon Blanc. He got the Pan Roasted Skate and was not pleased with it. So I ate part of that, too. Decaf coffee for me, and House-made Vanilla bean ice-cream with regular coffee for him, then an array of gelee candies, a lemon butter cookie and a caramel-chocolate truffle before we left.

It is wonderful, I think, that through relationships, through new experiences, and school and breakups and travel all these things that change us, we can still see people from our past and manage to enjoy each other's company. It is a simple pleasure of life, for me.

Today, I think I am going to leave work a little early to hit some antique stores to find some CellarDoor24 goodies. And then I'm going to my first office Christmas party as a friend's date.

All together, this is my new December.

Last year I was finishing up finals and frantically packing up ball gowns and stockings and jewelry and new coats for a cousin's wedding in Jordan, working at Nordstrom, dealing with having to put down our beloved Springer Spaniel on Christmas Eve, and traveling to Texas to see family and my man. A lot can change in a year.
Everything changed in a year.

"It's been a long December
but there's reason to believe
that maybe this year will be better
than the last."

It doesn't have to be better- I just have to be ok with it being different, because nothing ever stays the same.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Adventures in City Driving and The Joys of Les Schwab Tire Center

I love city living so far. On Monday morning I woke up to an absolutely gorgeous sunrise of hot pink and orangeburst that glowed around the city's silhouette. I sleep with my blinds open now because I have a huge panoramic window that looks east, and when it's a nice morning, the light reflects off of the floor-to-ceiling mirrored closets in my room and my whole room wakes up nicely.

I woke up to another color that morning too: the unmistakable yellow of the little envelope into which they slip parking tickets.

As an offical resident of the city of Portland, I've run into a few driving related issues.

The ticket was admittedly totally my fault- a stupid error.

Then, this morning, I was leaving for work, and in an attempt to skip the long light at the botton of the hill on 19th, I tried to pull a U-turn. I was trying to get a big area to turn into, so I pulled towards the right, into a driveway of a parking lot. I apparently misjudged the length of the curb though, and ended up ramming my front right tire into the curb. I am used to driving an Explorer, and so this did not phase me... until I saw a man across the street look at my car curiously as I drove up the hill.

At this point, I was right in front of my building and thought it wise to step out and take a look at the damage: flat tire, scraped wheel. Dixie, I love you, but you're kind of a wimp.

I was a little excited to tackle changing a tire by myself, and started to get out all the necessary pieces from my trunk. The jack, the bar thing that takes off the lug nuts, and my driver's manual sat with me on the curb as my hazards flashed, indicating my state of semi-emergency and illuminating my cluelessness as I tried to jam the wrench thing onto the lug nuts. Totally wrong size. I sat there for a second, thinking I would run into my building and ask my manager for a tool when a man in a blue workman's jumpsuit walked by and asked if I would like some help.

My city-girl confidence gave way immediately to my innate damsel-in-distress gene and I smiled gratefully and accepted his help. Within seconds, he'd eliminated my first problem (those were not lug nuts I was trying to take off... it was a decorative plastic cover over my wheel. I just think that's mean) and then set to work loosening the nuts and jacking up the car while I stood there looking on intently- this was my contribution: watching with an interested expression.

Turns out Rick works in my building and was the guy who fixed my shower earlier this week. As much as I like the guy, you can only hope to get to know your maintenance man so much, else it speaks to the volume of mishaps in your life, right?

Spare tire on, I did the honor of lugging the old dirty one to my trunk, and then arrived late at work.

At lunch, I went to Les Schwab to get it replaced. Let me just say, that I looked forward to this all day, because I love Les Schwab. I love it. Les Schwab is the Nordstrom of the service industry. They are speedy, they are polite, they are efficient, and confident, and professional, and I love them. AND THE POPCORN! I LOVE the popcorn. Not to mention the FREE COFFEE! And the old magazines!
I could not have spent a happier hour and fifteen minutes anywhere, I don't think.

I was just licking my fingers after my third bag of popcorn and second cup of coffee when the nice guy (whom I recognized as a graduate of my high school) summoned me to the front to explain the diagnosis and run my card.

I would just like to extend my gratitude to all the tire-changers of the world who are willing to scrape their knuckles and get their hands dirty to help other people out. I think knowing I could have changed that tire if I wanted to was enough for me- I didn't need to prove it, so thanks, Rick, for being there. And thanks Les Schwab for turning such an inconvenience into the bright spot in my day.

Whoever runs into me for the rest of the day is in for a treat, as I'm in a pay-it-forward kind of mood.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"What'd you do at work today? Oh really, because I got to play God."

A large part of my job involves messing around with the software application that we've developed. I suppose that's where the "Analyst" part comes in.

We are scheduled to begin training the client on how to use the latest release of the application tomorrow, and I've been helping Roger set up the system for his training sessions. He will be training on functionality that requires a member account in the system to have certain conditions, like that the person is ready to retire, or that they are divorced, or dead.

This is where things get weird.
All the data is in a test environment- a website that is a mockup of what our real website will be, with all of the actual members in it (which for me includes people I've known my whole life, including teachers, family members, and friends' parents) but for some reason I cannot get it through my head that whatever I change in the system doesn't actually happen in real life.

For instance:

Roger had me go through and perform divorces on like, 33 accounts the other day. I felt bad THE ENTIRE TIME. I had to add Alternate Payees to another 26 accounts, and since it's all just to get the account in order, it doesn't MATTER who you choose to add as the member's spouse, or ex-spouse (you can click buttons in the system and associate a woman with a woman, a man with a man, whatever) but I could not shake the feeling that I HAD to pair up people who are about the same age. I tried to make sure the woman's name sounded nice with the guy's last name, and that they didn't live too far away from each other. This added on a fairly large amount of unnecessary time to my day.

I felt like I was playing that horrible computer game "The Sims" all week. My greatest work-related fear (other than the client discovering my temporary internet files and wondering what the F it is I do all day) is that somehow the training data will go live, without me knowing it, and I will just be sitting at my desk, divorcing and killing people all the live-long day. Just ruining lives.